Determined to Refocus After 3 Game Skid, Princeton Men’s Hoops Defeats Monmouth

PUTTING IN MYLES: Princeton University men’s basketball player Myles Stephens drives to the hoop in recent action. Last Saturday, junior star and tri-captain Stephens chipped in 16 points and four assists as Princeton defeated Cal Poly 80-60 in improving to 4-6.  Stephens, who had 19 points and eight rebounds in a 69-58 win over Monmouth on December 12, was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week. After playing at Southern Cal on December 19, the Tigers head across the Pacific Ocean to compete in the Diamond Head Classic from December 22-25 in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For Myles Stephens and his teammates on the Princeton University men’s basketball team, their 71-60 defeat at George Washington earlier this month proved to be a wake-up call.

“After the GW loss, we refocused our team,” said Princeton junior star and tri-captain Stephens, reflecting on the loss which was the third straight for the Tigers. “We had some conversations with our coach and with our team. We really wanted to focus on our defense.”

As the Tigers hosted Monmouth last week in their first outing since the GW game, that renewed focus wasn’t apparent right away as the Hawks jumped out to a 16-3 lead. But responding with a 20-2 run, Princeton led 31-26 at halftime and never looked back on the way to a 69-58 win in the December 12 contest before a crowd of 1,549 at Jadwin Gym.

Stephens helped trigger the triumph with some deadeye shooting, hitting 5-of-9 three-pointers on the way to a game-high 19 points.

“I started making shots,” said Stephens. “Devin [Cannady] is doing things that make it difficult to guard us. He is setting screens and slipping and two defenders are going with him. He is getting us open shots and I was able to put them in. All of my teammates are putting me in position to score and I am doing the same thing for them.”

On the defensive end, Stephens made a difference as well, helping to hold Monmouth star Micah Seaborn to eight points.

“It was a big key,” said Stephens, referring to stifling Seaborn. “We have been letting teams go one-on-one against us. We have been letting up a lot of inside buckets. Seaborn is a great player in transition, he can really shoot the ball. It was key this week.”

In Stephens’ view, a team-wide commitment to defense made the difference against the Hawks.

“We were focusing on our defense and that is what we became better at today with hedges, boxing out, and all around the boards,” said Stephens, who also had eight rebounds and a blocked shot on the evening. “We did a really good job on the defensive end.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson didn’t hedge when assessing the importance of the triumph for the Tigers.

“I know that is a good Monmouth team and that is a really good win,” said Henderson.

“We needed that bad, from the top down, the bottom up, the managers; every single person in our program needed it.”

Henderson was heartened by the resolve the Tigers displayed in overcoming the early deficit.

“I am so happy, that with where we have been recently, we were up five at half after being down 16-3,” said Henderson.

“I will take responsibility. We have been playing like crap and it is on me. I thought tonight we looked like a team.”

Princeton seemed to be most in synch as a team down the stretch when Henderson went with his big three of Stephens, Cannady and senior guard Amir Bell along with a pair of freshmen, Sebastian Much and Ryan Schwieger.

“I think that is the right group,” said Henderson, who got nine points and five rebounds from Much with Schwieger adding eight and four steals.

“That group was defending. They made some tough shots. Every one of this guys can shoot it and has an interesting skill set.”

The skills of Stephens at both ends proved to be a key factor for the Tigers.

“Myles did an excellent job with a very difficult guy to guard in Seaborn, which is what he provides,” said Henderson of Stephens, who had 16 points and four assists as Princeton defeated Cal Poly 80-60 last Saturday and was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week. “He also made shots.”

Cannady hit some big shots, ending up with 18 points, including two three-pointers in the last 1:40 of the contest.

“Devin did a good job, he changes the way teams defend us,” said Henderson. “If he is unselfish, everyone else around him benefits from that.”

Cannady, for his part, was content to focus on setting up his teammates until things opened up for him in crunch time.

“If guys want to guard me that close, then I can cut and get other guys open,” said Cannady.

“I am just trying to play that role and Myles shot the ball terrific tonight. Later in the game, they switched into the 2-3 zone that left me open for some shots. Sebastian had a great kick out and I knocked it down. With time winding down on one of the other possessions, I had a good look too.”

Although Princeton has taken some knocks in its non-conference schedule, Henderson believes that is the best way to toughen up his squad.

“I love it but it creates some tough conversations when you are 2-6 that these guys can have with each other and with me,” said Henderson, whose team moved to 4-6 with the win over Cal Poly and was slated to play at Southern Cal on December 19 and then compete in the Diamond Head Classic from December 22-25 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

“I would rather do that because I think you learn the hardest lessons through the schedule. This is a good team that is going to win games.”

Cannady, for his part, feels the Tigers are taking those lessons to heart.

“We are not determining your success on the wins and losses at this point,” said Cannady.

“It is: ‘Are we constantly improving and getting better?’ and that is what we did this game. [Monmouth] is a team that scored 75 plus points a game and we held them to 58. The goal coming in was getting back and defending and that is what we did. It was positive.”